I invested in a new, vented suit for bee season, which seems to be approaching. There are tempting hints of spring, and I want to put on my suit and jump in the hives, but Mother Nature has other plans.
It could be several critical days or weeks until pollen and nectar are readily available. If you have the time and opportunity (weather-wise) to check on your colonies in the next few weeks, here are some things to consider:
— Add a protein patty: bees desperately need protein for spring build-up. A pollen patty placed atop the bars of the brood nest (be sure to stay close to the nest) might give them the critical protein they need as the weather comes and goes over the next month. Chances are their version of March Madness doesn’t focus on basketball–but rather how do they get enough protein to properly care for developing bees?
— Provide sugar syrup: until the world erupts in nectar sources, they’re burning lots of fuel looking for more.
— Reduce space: if you had on three or more boxes, chances are that at least one might be empty. Minimizing space helps them keep brood warm. If you have one of those “three cups of bees” clusters that appears to be struggling, you may even want to reduce the colony to one box.
We’re tempted to remove the black wrap skirting and Styrofoam we use for winterizing hives, but we’ll probably wait until later April to do so. Mother Nature loves the way snow looks on tulips, so we could have more cold nights and fluffy white stuff. When we do remove the gust-protective skirts though, we’ll put slider boards back in to help the bees control temperature.
Chances are that you’ve lost a colony or two (or seven.) I’ve heard anecdotally of about 40% overwintering loss; it happens—especially if your Varroa were not under control. Here’s what we’re doing with dead-outs. And yep, we also had some, doggone it.
— Autopsy: to try and figure out why. (Chances are very good it is related to Varroa.) A tell-tale sign is crystallized mite urine, especially about the brood nest. Once we rule out American Foulbrood, we’ll evaluate the frames, foundation and boxes to see if their suitable for reuse.
— Drawn foundation less than three seasons will be re-used IF it’s not predominantly drone-sized. The queen will lay a fertilized (worker) or unfertilized (drone) egg according to the size of the cell her workers have drawn—and predominantly drone comb will result in more bees watching basketball then working. After about three seasons, the chemical load in wax is allegedly substantial, so that foundation will be destroyed. (We don’t use plastic.)
— Dead bees are brushed off, and if there is a lot of decay on the frames or foundation, we’ll discard. Otherwise, time in the sun usually handles mold issues and some sterilization. Let frames get plenty of air and sun.
— Boxes with heavy defecation are washed with a mild bleach solution, rinsed, and then allowed to dry / sterilize in the sun for a few days. We’ll also repair them if need bee.
— All frames are pulled out to ensure they’re solid–repaired if not. It is super-frustrating to encounter a frame of honey in July and try to pull it only to pull off the top bar.
— Honey frames are put in the freezer. We’ll save them to use in splits in a few months from our strong colonies.
Once we’re through our equipment overhaul, we’ll return to the couch and basketball, but continue to dream about the upcoming season …